Okay, but not in public

The justice system in the UK and abroad

Okay, but not in public

Postby Elliott » 05 Aug 2011, 03:08

In Victorian London, at the height of moral prudishness, there existed opium dens where well-heeled gentlemen could go to "chill out". Also brothels by the dozen.

This is sometimes used as an illustration that morality is hypocrisy, that Victorian gentlemen were not really gentlemen at all, and that their society was fake.

TD has commented on this argument in a narrower sense, saying that if you dig deep enough you'll find someone going against their own principles, but that does not prove their principles wrong.

For example, if you steal, but say "stealing is wrong", is that not preferable to saying "stealing is right"?

But I really mean this as a question about social policy. We have to accept that people will do things that we don't approve of. That doesn't mean we should approve of those things. But it also means that sometimes it would be better to turn a blind eye than make a big, counterproductive fuss about it.

I suspect that the opium dens and brothels of Victorian London enabled that society to keep functioning. There has to be a separation between the public world and the underworld, because people have desires which should not be condoned yet which, when satisfied, enable a fuller life. The crucial thing is knowing how to confine one's nefarious habit to its proper place in one's life, not to let it get out of control.

For example, I do not think drugs should be legalised. I do not think the government should approve of them. But at the same time, I know educated, prosperous people who use cannabis and cocaine regularly. But they keep it to themselves; they would never go to a restaurant high on drugs, and they would never let it interfere with their (affluent) jobs. So what is the proper moral response to them taking drugs? I cannot find it in myself to condemn them. (Especially as I was smoking the odd joint myself while on holiday with these people recently.)

I think it's important to also say that circumstances alter cases. Drug-taking is likely to have a very different effect on an educated, busy middle-class person who has responsibilities than on an unemployed, lonely, depressed person. For the former, drugs could be virtually harmless; for the latter, they could be lethal.

So to provide a few examples... prostitution is an immoral and degrading thing for both client and prostitute. Yet I know of a brothel in Chelsea where the prostitutes are (reportedly) well-spoken and well-paid. Should that place be razed to the ground? Is it not better that this place continue to exist, and society continues pretending to disapprove of it?

An interesting tangent from this subject is gay liberation. Talking to older gay men, I often have a sense that, even though they'd never say it, they'd actually rather it was still illegal and disapproved of. Because then it would be interesting to be gay. They talk about cottaging for example, and you can tell they enjoy it precisely because of its nefariousness, the secrecy of it. It is no longer necessary to go cottaging because there are many legal, more pleasant ways to get sex... yet gay men continue doing it. And they continue going to saunas. Does this not suggest that people require a little illegal pleasure, and that society should turn a blind eye to them getting it?

To reiterate, I'm talking about allowing isolated pockets of illegality to continue, whilst publicly condemning them.
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Re: Okay, but not in public

Postby George » 05 Aug 2011, 04:36

Society definitely needs to elevate morality, but I think you have to pick your battles in enforcing it. You have to protect the vulnerable and the innocent, but people are just going to resent morality if its enforced too heavy-handedly. So I guess you're right.

It's interesting that conservatives have always seemed more comfortable about the fact that society is probably never going to be perfect (or not in this age, anyway).
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Re: Okay, but not in public

Postby Andrea » 05 Aug 2011, 11:49

Elliott said, "So what is the proper moral response to them taking drugs? I cannot find it in myself to condemn them.


(I'm afraid this is one of those topics that pushes my buttons, so please no one take it personally). I find it in myself to condemn drug use completely. I have never used any drugs because I don't need it to feel better about myself, have fun, relax, or whatever other excuse people come out with to justify drug use. I also have never been drunk. I find drug use for "fun" to be an inane waste of time, for one could relax by listening to music, de-stress by exercising - there are other ways of dealing with the stresses of life that don't require the use of substances.

I used to think it was fine for people to do whatever they wanted in private. I have changed my opinion considerably in the past few years, and shall explain why. I have met many people who seemed to be fine achievers who enjoyed, "getting high." Most of them (there were two exceptions) ended up dropping out of university, moving back in with their parents and becoming full-on losers (couldn't hold down a job, had terrible debt) because they became addicted to getting high. One of my friends from my teenage years took acid and shot and killed his girlfriend and himself. One other student I knew went driving, high on cannabis, and drove down the wrong side of the road, crashed and killed himself and two innocent other people. One co-worker of mine was found dead after he had smoked cannabis, and used cocaine and he had a heart attack - he was 26 years old. I do not think it is ok, therefore, to partake of drugs either in public or in private. Yes, I know I'm a hardliner on this, but sometimes I feel someone needs to be.

As a historian, the number one thing people say to me is:
"It has always been like this. There were druggies in the Victorian times, like there are now."

I do not think that a valuable argument because aren't we supposed to get better, not worse, as we evolve? Are we not supposed to become the best people we can be? The Victorians, for all the derogatory comments about their so-called "prudishness" had their moral heads screwed-on. They knew it was immoral to have opium dens and brothels, that's why they were not openly spoken of. Now, the reverse is true. We know it happens, but if you don't condone bad behaviour or don't partake in it yourself, you are labelled a "prude," a "party-pooper" and are ostracised.

I was one of the moderators of an anti-drug forum, and had to leave as there were much more vocal persons in favour of drug use (and they were incredibly vitriolic and used ad hominem attacks frequently and with relish) than there were people who were against using it.

Some things they would argue:
"The best art and music was made under the influence of drugs."

In my opinion, any art that is done whilst in the thralls of the drug is forever tainted by the substances used. True genius comes from within, and need not a reliance on foreign substances to achieve a beautiful work of art.

"If you drink coffee or eat chocolate, you are taking drugs."

*sighs* Sure, and how many people have driven on the opposite side of the road and had a car accident whilst "high on chocolate?" How many? A big round number, I daresay.

As for the people who are able to uphold their jobs and maintain a well-running life whilst using drugs, I think we can still judge them on the following:
a) Drug use is illegal, and in that light, of course, their actions are criminal.
b) The glorification in films of wealthy, comfortable people partaking in drugs whilst being successful is unfortunate. Just because some people are able to life relatively normal lives does not mean the majority would be able to.
c) They are setting a poor example for others.
d) They are not respecting/caring for their bodies by using recreational drugs.

Anyway, those are my thoughts, for what they're worth. I've lost too many friends to drug use to have a more rational response and for that I am sorry.
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Re: Okay, but not in public

Postby Elliott » 05 Aug 2011, 15:38

Andrea wrote:(I'm afraid this is one of those topics that pushes my buttons, so please no one take it personally).

From what you say, I think it's perfectly understandable that you would feel the way you do about drugs. My own experiences of drugs have been much less traumatic than yours. Apart from a few (very) bad trips on magic mushrooms, the worst that I've encountered is a friend who became schizophrenic in his early 20s, possibly due to heavy use of cannabis and ecstasy. Now that's a very bad "result", but I also know many people who have had no ill effects at all from taking drugs, some of them for many decades.

I used to think it was fine for people to do whatever they wanted in private.

Yes, so did I.

As a historian, the number one thing people say to me is: "It has always been like this. There were druggies in the Victorian times, like there are now."

Yes, that's a typical fatuous argument. TD himself has mentioned it, in reference to Gin Lane being an excuse for copious public drunkenness (listen to the Ideas mp3 on SD).

The Victorians, for all the derogatory comments about their so-called "prudishness" had their moral heads screwed-on. They knew it was immoral to have opium dens and brothels, that's why they were not openly spoken of.

I agree with all of that. I'm not disputing any of those statements.

Now, the reverse is true. We know it happens, but if you don't condone bad behaviour or don't partake in it yourself, you are labelled a "prude," a "party-pooper" and are ostracised.

It's a question of proportion. If you're with a bunch of people whom you know perfectly well take drugs regularly and are able to control the effects and have prosperous lives, then condemning their drug-taking does seem over-the-top and prudish. I could illustrate this with example but it's probably self-explanatory.

"The best art and music was made under the influence of drugs."

In my opinion, any art that is done whilst in the thralls of the drug is forever tainted by the substances used. True genius comes from within, and need not a reliance on foreign substances to achieve a beautiful work of art.

You speak of an ideal, which is fine but idealistic. The fact is that a lot of human history has been characterised by the drug habits of the protagonists. For example both Mac and Windows were designed by heavy drug takers (Steve Jobs and Bill Gates). And 2001: A Space Odyssey was fairly obviously inspired by tripping. Now of course it's possible these achievements could have been made without drugs, but the fact is they weren't.

"If you drink coffee or eat chocolate, you are taking drugs."

Yes, I agree, that's a fatuous argument.

Drug use is illegal, and in that light, of course, their actions are criminal.

Criminal, but immoral?
The glorification in films of wealthy, comfortable people partaking in drugs whilst being successful is unfortunate. Just because some people are able to life relatively normal lives does not mean the majority would be able to.

I agree completely with this. Drug use should not be glorified, and people shouldn't be allowed to glorify it in public. It should be a secret, nefarious thing (like Victorian opium dens).
They are not respecting/caring for their bodies by using recreational drugs.

Yes, I think this is true.
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Re: Okay, but not in public

Postby Connor » 28 Nov 2012, 09:12

I just finished watching the debate about drug legalization featuring Theodore Dalrymple. Strangely enough, it reminded me of this old thread.

Though the doctor was in top form (as usual), I don't quite think I can take his side in this debate. At this point, it seems almost like an inevitability that marijuana will be legalized in most Western societies in the near future (perhaps the very near future). Although I'm not exactly looking forward to that day (I have no interest in the drug whatsoever), it does seem like society will go on functioning without there being any massive, marijuana-related catastrophes. I could be wrong, of course.

And going forward from that point - who knows? Some moderately "hard" drugs like cocaine might even become legalized in the future. I know even less about what that future scenario would be like.

While watching the debate, however, I found that I kept thinking about this very thread. The thoughts expressed here - particularly in Elliott's first post - seem to hold the element that the debate lacked. People commenting on this thread understand that certain vices can be controlled in a society as long as they are kept somewhat hidden.

Now, that idea may sound simple, but it is a much more nuanced view than anything that the glib libertarians in the debate seemed to offer. It isn't simply that these people want drugs to be legalized - it's as though they can't admit that there are any possible negative consequences to taking them, whether it's on the personal or social level. This kind of "over-selling" the case for drug legalization is rampant nowadays, and it makes me wonder if these people are their own worst enemy in debates. Part of me actually wishes that marijuana is kept illegal just to annoy such snarky commentators (forgive me).

To anyone who has watched the debate, I would invite you to comment. Is the attitude summed up in the phrase "Okay, but not in public" the missing element of this debate?

Also, where exactly does this attitude lie between the two opposing sides? Does it lean more towards the legalizers' camp, or towards Dalrymple's camp? I wonder.

PS - I'm sorry for digging up such an old thread, but really, I remembered it vividly after all this time. It's worth a read.
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Re: Okay, but not in public

Postby Caleb » 29 Nov 2012, 02:39

Drugs are completely illegal in most Asian countries, and the penalties for possession, but especially possession of large quantities, are very high (often death).

It is somewhat with bemusement then that probably once or twice a year I hear of foreigners here in Taiwan not just getting caught for using drugs, but for growing several marijuana plants in their apartments. I've known one person who has been in such a situation (I think it was just for possession for personal use, though I don't really know because I didn't know him that well or see him that often), but the penalties have always ended up as jail time or counselling, followed by deportation. There was even one friend of a friend who lost his job simply for being friends with another person who was caught. He had been working at his job for five years and was highly valued, but they dropped him like a hot potato. It was guilt by association, which seemed stupid to me, but that's how things work here. He ended up moving to Korea instead because he was so burnt by the whole experience. Anyway, I just wonder why people bother taking drugs here. It seems pretty silly to risk completely distrupting one's life over such a small thing as getting high occasionally. I think many probably don't truly realise that they're not back home in Canada, but that it's serious here.

That said, there is supposedly a pretty widespread underground drug scene here, particularly the use of methamphetamines by truck drivers (which is always a real worry being on the road!) and certain other blue collar workers. Apparently, back in the 70s, Taiwan used to be the world's major producer of methamphetamines, and the KMT was also involved in all sorts of other activities such as the heroin trade, (child) prostitution and sex trafficking, and so on right into the 90s. There's still supposedly a recreational drug scene here (as I'm sure there is almost anywhere), though it's not nearly as big as in the West.

One often unintentionally hilarious thing I see here is the use of marijuana leaves on t-shirts, caps, etc. Sometimes, these items of clothing come out of touristy beach resorts (so I guess they originally come from a Jamaican/reggae association), but they are more widespread now. I pointed this out to my wife one day, and she didn't know what a marijuana leaf was until I told her. You see all sorts of truly shocking or laugh out loud English on t-shirts and so on here, but it's even crazier to see a grandmother walking around with a giant marijuana leaf on her t-shirt, completely oblivious. People sometimes wear gold marijuana leaf pendants, and so on. It's kind of analogous to a lot of people (including people you wouldn't expect to see wearing such things) wearing gear with the Playboy bunny and word Playboy on it. Or people with Swastikas (German, not Buddhist) and SS insignias. Fashion is a weird thing.

There's some sort of organisation here called LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) which is supposed to promote general health and fitness amongst other things. Often they employ a marijuana leaf (or used to), obviously quite unwittingly. At my old job, the school gym had an enormous banner on one wall with LOHAS written on it and a marijuana leaf that must have been at least a metre across (the leaf).
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Re: Okay, but not in public

Postby Elliott » 05 Jan 2013, 21:33

Connor, I have finally got around to watching the debate (sorry for the delay) and formulating some thoughts...

I did not find it a satisfying debate - but in that sense it was just a typical "drug legalisation" debate. Like debates on God/Atheism, these debates seem to revolve around a set of cliches. There is a terrible lack of curiosity about taking things farther and moving into new intellectual territory. All we hear from pro-legalisers is "it'll be fine, and safer than black market" and all we hear from anti-legalisers is "we have to draw a moral line, even if we can't control the resulting black market". You might also get some remarks about the likely good/bad behaviour of former drug barons if drugs were legalised, and utterly imaginary projections of how drug use will change for the better/worse upon legalisation. There's always some use of cold statistics, and the audience always votes in favour of legalisation by about 60/40.

I would agree with you that there was something missing from this debate, as all others. We just seem to be stuck in 1970, perpetually, when it comes to drugs. I think we need a more sophisticated, and also more honest, approach.

I think that, on this issue, facts have become slightly irrelevant. The pro-legalisers ream off tedious statistics (or at least I found them tedious) and the anti-legalisers come up with facts that, while intriguing in themselves, are of negligible firepower on a subject like this. Whether Amsterdam is or isn't the crime capital of Europe due to drugs, is not going to persuade people outside Holland that drugs cannot be safely legalised. I think this debate has actually become a point of principle, and people have already made up their minds on that basis.

In response to the debate, I would return to the points I made in my original post, 18 months ago (!), and attempt to expand them (I obviously went for brevity in those days).

Drug use is going to happen. I think any debate should take that as a starting point. You're not going to eliminate it, and even reducing it will be incredibly hard and expensive. So the job, in my view, should be to conceive of a society that can handle drug use better than ours currently does.

Let's start with an anecdote, which some may find shocking. I have mentioned before that I go on a "fathers and sons" holiday to Italy each summer. The dads are rock 'n' roll Baby Boomers and the sons are 20-somethings, and virtually all of them take drugs. Myself, I have taken hard drugs in the past (when I was in my early 20s) but nowadays confine myself to cannabis, and only during this annual two-week holiday. The rest of the year, I don't even think about it, and never want it. (You could say that I naturally practice the "compartmentalising" that I advocated in the OP, and probably quite a lot of people do.) Anyway, last July we were driving to Italy and we stopped at a cannabis cafe in Utrecht. Though it was convenient to be able to buy a sachet of cannabis easily like this, I had a nasty sense that, if this freedom were extended to other drugs, something would be very wrong. I am pro legalising cannabis but other drugs are a very different kettle of fish. So, while I have a personal (and very rare) desire for cannabis, I believe that full legalisation of all drugs would signal a defeat of civilisation in some sense.

Something I find remarkable about the Victorian age is that, despite its opium dens and brothels, civilisation was not defeated. On the contrary, civilisation has in some ways perhaps never been as fully-developed as it was in Victorian cities. Even the presence of Dickensian degradation could not defeat it. But it is obvious that educated men of means are going to seek distraction, and many intelligent men will want the "exploration" that drug use affords. Well, Victorian society had ways of dealing with this desire. You could even say that, by accommodating these desires in private (while constantly disapproving of them in public), Victorian society created some of its cultural vitality.

It's also worth mentioning, if a little glib, that recreational drugs were more readily available in Victorian society than in ours, yet they didn't cause the damage they undoubtedly cause in ours. Victorian society had its problems and flaws but those had nothing whatsoever to do with drug use. Why is it that a 19th century society tolerated drug use and was the pinnacle of civilisation, whereas 21st century societies balk at drug use and spend fortunes trying to stop it while they crumble with moral degeneracy? I don't think drugs are the problem here. They probably make the problem worse, but it pre-exists them. The problem is civilisational suicide. Add drugs to that and the situation will worsen, but removing them (even if you could) will not solve it. Drugs do not play a part in making a politician corrupt, a father philanderous, a teacher incompetent, a teenager illiterate or a university graduate ignorant.

So I think the best thing would be a return to the (admittedly quite bizarre) dualism of Victorian society: on the outside, you decry irresponsible and degrading behaviour, but in isolated compartments, you allow people to indulge their darker drives.

The key would be keeping the two worlds - private and public - separate, ideally to the extent that decent, ordinary people didn't know about the underworld since it might offend/trouble them (not everyone can be a "seen it all" type).

How to keep those two worlds separate?

One way would be the clientele that frequented these modern-day opium dens. People who had something to lose from bad behaviour, namely professionals, would be far more likely to behave properly once they left the place.

But a more important way, which the former would rely on anyway, would be a public compulsion to behave properly. This would affect all classes, and it would have beneficial effects far beyond the issue being discussed here. Perhaps what I am proposing would only be feasible in a society that already had these expectations of its members.

The essential thing would be that everything ended once you stepped out of the club. At that point, you would have to be a normal person, and it would be your responsibility to control your behaviour, your manner of dress, etc., everything, in order not to shock or offend passers-by. You could even place requirements on the owners of these clubs: don't let anyone leave until he's compos mentis, or we'll shut your place down.

I realise how strange this all sounds, but the fact is it worked very well a hundred years ago. And I don't think that what we're doing nowadays is working. At all, really.
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Re: Okay, but not in public

Postby Caleb » 07 Jan 2013, 06:37

Elliott: To some extent, drug use already works like that for middle and upper class people. Generally speaking, they're not the problem. Idiots like Richard Branson still make fools of themselves asking Obama for a joint at a state dinner, but they also still manage to have successful careers or businesses and get along well enough in life.

The problem is the underclass. The horse has bolted there, but then, it's bolted in a whole lot of other ways too. Zero tolerance isn't working there. The so-called War on Drugs is an abject failure in America. Supposedly, they have more people in jail just for drug-related crimes than all of Western Europe does for all crimes. Now that could just be a statement about the slackness of European legal systems, or it could really be a comment about how the American War on Drugs is failing. It's also creating massive problems just across the border in Mexico. Yet no one really has any idea how to stop it. Poor black people in America would be about as likely to go to an officially licensed establishment to procure crack cocaine (imagine such a place!) as they would be to apply to the FBI (or whomever is in charge of such things) for a gun licence.

I don't know what the solution is though.
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Re: Okay, but not in public

Postby Connor » 25 Jan 2013, 06:16

Hello again Elliott – I would like to finally address your response to my original post. I apologize for the delay!

Something I find remarkable about the Victorian age is that, despite its opium dens and brothels, civilisation was not defeated. On the contrary, civilisation has in some ways perhaps never been as fully-developed as it was in Victorian cities. Even the presence of Dickensian degradation could not defeat it. But it is obvious that educated men of means are going to seek distraction, and many intelligent men will want the "exploration" that drug use affords. Well, Victorian society had ways of dealing with this desire. You could even say that, by accommodating these desires in private (while constantly disapproving of them in public), Victorian society created some of its cultural vitality.


It was this insight that originally drew me to this thread, and it's one that I've been meditating on for quite some time.

Actually, it's a topic that I've been interested in long before I ever discovered this forum. I've always been fascinated by the Victorian era, or more specifically the latter years of the Victorian era, which is sometimes referred to as the “Fin De Siecle” (or the “Belle Epoque” or “The Gilded Age,” or “The Yellow Nineties,” etc). Part of what interests me in this era is the combination of public civility and private vice. As you mentioned, there was a dark underworld to this high civilization that featured such things as opium dens and brothels. One can read the “Decadent” literature from this era for a vivid description of what went on outside of the public eye (this anthology might be of interest, for those of you who are similarly inclined).

Yet, as you point out, these partially-hidden vices did not degrade the society as a whole. On the contrary, many would claim that the latter half of the 19th Century was, in many ways, the pinnacle of Western civilization (including myself). Note that I am not just referring to areas of culture or the arts when I make that claim. Great leaps were being made in technological progress during these years, and the Western world was in the midst of an unprecedented stretch of peace (roughly 1871-1914 without a major war between the nation-states). The era's ability to hide vices behind the curtain, as opposed to trying to eradicate them altogether, seems to be one of the key ingredients to its success. Perhaps leaving outlets for such aberrant behavior even contributed to the dynamism of those years. Could a society designed by Puritans bear such impressive fruit?

Why is it that a 19th century society tolerated drug use and was the pinnacle of civilisation, whereas 21st century societies balk at drug use and spend fortunes trying to stop it while they crumble with moral degeneracy?


It's a difficult question, but I think a simple respect for privacy is one key virtue that separates the 19th Century society from our own. Victorian morality understood the importance of privacy both for oneself and for others. A gentleman in 1890's London was able to slip off to an opium den (or to a brothel) on occasions, but he was always savvy enough to keep it quiet. Thus the government found no reason to launch a War on Opium or a War on Brothels in the first place. There was simply no need to send droves of people to prison.

Also – and perhaps this is the most important part – this Victorian gentleman would not have argued that there's “nothing wrong” with such behavior, unlike the naïve libertarian pundits of today. Instead, he would have identified his behavior as a vice – as a “sin,” to be more dramatic about it – and therefore left it in the underworld where it belonged.

Even notoriously indulgent 19th Century figures like Baudelaire, Edgar Allan Poe or Thomas De Quincey tended to emphasize the dark side of their private vices. We should remember that a work like Confessions of an English Opium Eater was just that: a confession by someone penitent for what he knew was a bad habit. He did not parade around in a “Legalize Opium” T-shirt with a matching bumper sticker.

Just try to contrast these attitudes with our own era. In the Social Media age, the principle of privacy is dangerously withering away. People now believe that their every thought and gesture must be filmed, tweeted, photographed or posted on Facebook. They don't even want privacy for themselves, let alone for strangers. Is it any wonder that their thinking isn't nuanced enough for hidden vices?

So I think the best thing would be a return to the (admittedly quite bizarre) dualism of Victorian society: on the outside, you decry irresponsible and degrading behaviour, but in isolated compartments, you allow people to indulge their darker drives.


Yes, this seems to be the ideal attitude, as I hinted at above. Perhaps it isn't quite so bizarre. Perhaps our 21st Century attitude, where we insist that every kind of behavior be publicized, is the truly bizarre worldview. It doesn't seem to be how most people have lived in world history.

Maybe our society needs to return to a concept of “sin,” as religious people in the past once understood it. There were plenty of behaviors that, while legal, were considered immoral (sins) by almost everyone. More importantly, it was understood that everyone was going to commit a sin from time to time. That was unavoidable. Still, you were expected to keep your sins hidden from the public eye, and you certainly didn't label them as “good” or even “harmless,” as a way to escape judgment.

Such unwritten social taboos against drugs would be more effective than any law that could be passed. Sure, sending people to jail for possessing marijuana (for example) may be too draconian of a measure. I would agree with that. But what if the people who used marijuana were simply embarrassed about it? That sense of shame seems like it would be the most effective way to control excessive drug use, and it would also be effective in reducing “peer pressure.”

Yes, I know that “peer pressure” is a term from our school days that no one uses in their adult lives. I would argue, however, that “peer pressure” is a force that continues into the adult world just the same. I only need to observe people from my own age bracket (I was born in 1985) to see what happens when recreational drug use is considered utterly guiltless: people simply can't keep it to themselves. No longer is it enough for moderns to indulge in private vices; they also want to know why those strange other people aren't joining in. Really, it increasingly feels as though the abstainer, not the user, is the odd one in a social group. I know because I've been in that awkward situation quite a few times. I won't claim that I've never tried an illegal substance, but I've more often found myself declining such illicit offers. At least with the Victorian opium den, there was no proselytizing!

But how exactly does a society instate such a taboo? Is it possible for a society to consciously change its attitude so sharply? Unfortunately, I don't believe it is. Attitudes such as the Victorians had seemed to stem from traditions and customs, and those are things that cannot be decreed by a government.

So this means that – like the rest of us – I don't have a remedy.
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Re: Okay, but not in public

Postby Gavin » 25 Jan 2013, 23:36

Some very wise words being written here, if I may say so, and I am always amazed, and I should say, encouraged, by how relatively young our contributors are.

This is the thing that got to me: it isn't that people break rules, or do unwise things. I'm sure we all know that people do, I've done some myself, and people are imperfect. It's the way that is has become officially sanctioned in a relativist mess, from single parent families to taking drugs to women in the army etc. etc.

When we have rapper Flo Rida being endorsed with glowing praise by ex-choirboy Aled Jones, we have judges letting career criminals off and so on, we know there is something very wrong. There's a sickness in society. It's not rebellious to break rules any more, it's actually being compliant. That's what's gone wrong and that's why it really needs addressing in a serious way in the West in my view.

If I may lighten this with a bit of humour, common sense went out of the window some time ago and it's time for us to climb out after it and bring it back in! Not tonight though, there's thick snow where I am.
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Re: Okay, but not in public

Postby Andreas » 26 Jan 2013, 18:44

I have just now got around to reading this thread. Very interesting thoughts expressed by all.

I'm inclined to see the breakdown of the separation between public and private worlds as an important factor in this problem, when so many people feel the desire or need to post all details of their private lives on the internet, with no sense that some things are best not spoken of or exhibited in public.

Along with this general incontinence there is the fact that nothing has any shock value any more.

In one way, I think heavy drug use, taking a drug that makes one enter a completely different, detached mental state, is the ultimate rejection of human society (not unlike living a totally hermetic existence, or suicide), shutting out other people and the world entirely.
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Re: Okay, but not in public

Postby Paul » 26 Jan 2013, 18:49

Well, I left work last night at about 9pm and found I couldn't get home because of slippy roads. I had to stay at a friend's. Four inches of snow eh? I'm almost ashamed.

The main thing about marijuana now is that virtually everyone, including most non-users, believe it to be relatively harmless, at least in moderation and no more or less so than drinking. In fact in the UK now, it's quite easy (and probably correct) to say that drinking is causing far more social harm. This will always have been the case in comparison (because marijuana use was once miniscule) but the problems caused by alcohol are now elevated far in excess of any that existed in the past.

So people just aren't convinced any more of the need for a costly and otherwise damaging 'war', at least in respect of marijuana. The law now has virtually no public support. This as much as anything should signal the end of a completely prohibitionist approach. It isn't going to work, has been seen not to work and has minority support among the people.

But outlawing other drugs is still broadly supported by most people. Almost everyone in fact, including hardened users - if they could for one minute be truly honest. I can't believe that anyone seriously thinks that legalising heroin and cocaine would, overall (and by some distance) be a good thing. Anyone who sticks to their guns and says it would be is 'not all there' (and so rightly dicounted), a liar or just plain bad. We can ignore them too.

The idea of 'cannabis dens' or a modern equivalent, which are the only places one may partake wouldn't really work. People aren't going to get ready, go out to these special places, partake and then leave, and leave it all behind them as if it didn't really happen. Not these days. I'm aware of Dutch Coffee Shops where it's legal to buy and consume, but you can bet it isn't confined exactly and only to these places, even if it is broadly so. People won't obey the law in every tiny detail.

People will want to smoke pot at home, at friends' homes, at parties, in the park and on the beach, or even walking down the street. They more or less do so anyway by now. It's very like alcohol, in the mood-relaxing way it operates and the broadly social context in which it fits. People like a drink in all kinds of places, even though traditionally, pubs were the majority focus of drinking, and the same goes, and will go, for marijuana. It's only because of the loutish behaviour of too many drinkers, that it's now illegal on many streets of Britain to consume alcohol at any time, which is a shame. Not that I support public drinking all over the place or even understand why people would want to be doing so en masse, but it's a shame nevertheless that we have had to enact laws to specifically prevent it.

This could be a fear of the law-makers - to legalise marijuana and hence potentially double the anti-social effects of drugs in public. Drinking brings its own baggage along and into society. What if marijuana does something similar, hitherto unforseen? Though it is hard to see what exactly, on any serious scale.

That's presuming the law-makers really care about what's happening to the people overmuch. I increasingly doubt it. It's a wonder actually they haven't legalised by now, to hell with the outcome, other than a huge amount of tax revenue which seems all they care about.

The other elephants in the room though are the effects upon driving and of operating machinery and of working in general. How could they possibly legislate in these regards when it's not at all simple to say whether or not a person is 'stoned'?

All drugs leave traces in the blood for days or even weeks. I believe marijuana leaves traces in the system for about a month, so is the 'worst' culprit in this respect. Compare it to alcohol, which is ejected by the body astonishingly quickly by comparison and at a pretty accurately determined rate - the whole basis in fact of the breath-test (and blood test) when driving.

An interesting concept this. Is alcohol ejected swiftly by the body because it is seen as a toxin? Is marijuana left to linger in the blood for a month because the body detects no threat? The reverse could be true of course - alcohol only 'damages' you for a few hours, marijuana goes on damaging you for a month! But this latter theory doesn't actually ring true at all.

So what if a person smoked some pot two weeks ago? The effects are long gone but there are still noticeable traces in a blood test. The person gets stopped whilst driving and tested - which would be all very costly and in fact very intrusive (taking blood samples). How does the law proceed at this point? It seems an impossible situation. And every single accident ever to occur would henceforth be seized upon and those involved accused of being under the influence, even though they may not be so to any extent at all. Or in fact would they?
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Re: Okay, but not in public

Postby Gavin » 27 Jan 2013, 00:07

Andreas wrote:In one way, I think heavy drug use, taking a drug that makes one enter a completely different, detached mental state, is the ultimate rejection of human society


I think this is a very good point. I wonder what Sam Harris would say to this - as I have mentioned elsewhere on the forum, he often makes good points, but I don't agree with his apparently laissez-faire attitude to psychedelic drugs.

I'm not sure there is much evidence that people generally become more foolish and less responsible as they age. If anything it is the latter, and age has taught me that drugs are more often than not damaging escapism and/or a waste of money.

Back to your point again, I can also never understand how people claim to create great works under the influence of drugs. I think this is nonsense. Usually a very clear mind and/or a steady hand is required. Personally I like a beer in the evenings, for example (usually a real ale), however I refrain from drinking during the daytime because I know I need to maintain an alert mind for programming and whatever else I'm trying to do. Furthermore, any ideas I am likely to come up with after a few beers are probably not good ones, probably not workable, as the sober me would see!

On the issue of controlling people's abuse of alcohol, I think this can be done through law and certainly should not (perhaps cannot) be done through price. I would lock up marauding drunken thugs and women and make them pay for their own healthcare.
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Re: Okay, but not in public

Postby Elliott » 27 Jan 2013, 02:11

Andreas wrote:In one way, I think heavy drug use, taking a drug that makes one enter a completely different, detached mental state, is the ultimate rejection of human society (not unlike living a totally hermetic existence, or suicide), shutting out other people and the world entirely.

I think that is true of heavy drug use, but I don't think it can be fairly said that any drug use constitutes a rejection of society. For me at least, that is an important distinction to make.

We can see it paralleled in alcohol: clearly one major reason why people become alcoholics is to escape reality, but it would be silly to claim that someone drinking a glass of wine is trying to escape reality. I don't think it's even a matter of degree; light and heavy use are entirely different behaviours, have very different effects, and suggest very different things about the user.

Where I would agree with you with respect to infrequent drug use is that it might be a temporary respite from society.
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Re: Okay, but not in public

Postby Andreas » 21 Jan 2014, 22:16

http://www.ucop.edu/risk-services/loss- ... -free.html

The University of California has announced that as of January 1 this year it is officially "smoke and tobacco free."

While discouraging young people from smoking is a laudable goal, the University of California, run by left-liberal administators, is likely to implement this policy in a selective and hypocritical fashion. I can imagine students who venture to smoke tobacco on campus being stopped and upbraided in a most censorious way, while no one will say anything about students smoking marijuana.
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